Jews from all over the world tune in to the Kotel to say Shema for the hostages

Families of hostages gathered at the Kotel to pray for the return of their loved ones


Shofars being blown at the Kotel for the hostages

In what is believed to have been the largest ever Jewish prayer group, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world tuned in to the Kotel on Thursday to pray for the swift and safe return of the hostages.

Relatives and friends of the hostages went to the holy site to say the Shema, sing Psalms and listen to the blast of several shofars being blown in unison.

At the same time, hundreds of thousands of people logged on from their homes, workplaces and schools from America to Australia to show solidarity.

Coinciding with the Fast of Esther, which commemorates the fast the Jews undertook as a prayer for their salvation, the occasion also fell on the 167th day of captivity.

Before the prayers began, several relatives of hostages spoke at the Jerusalem headquarters of Aish, which had organised the event along with the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

Rita Lifschitz, daughter-in-law of hostage Oded Lifschitz, 83, a founder of Kibbutz Nir Oz, said that her father-in-law was “a big peace fighter and a fighter for human rights. He wanted all the world to live in peace.”

She recalled that she would make Kiddush with her in-laws every Friday night and that every fortnight, all the family would come together with Oded and his wife Yocheved, 85, who was released after 16 days in captivity. “He is a good father, a good grandfather and a good husband to his wife and a very good father-in-law. He is like my father.”

Lifschitz, who also lived on Kibbutz Nir Oz before October 7, believed that she had been saved by “a strong power from above” after she decided on the evening of October 6 to go to Tel Aviv with her granddaughter, who was staying with her.

Now she is focusing on reminding the world of the ongoing plight of her father-in-law and the rest of the hostages. “27 people were kidnapped from Nir Oz. Our youngest was a nine-month-old baby and the eldest was 85 – we need them all back.”

Shai Zohar, the uncle of 22-year-old American Israeli, Omer Neutra, told how his nephew had come to Israel from Long Island as a lone soldier, but that he was “the most unlonely [sic] lone soldier. He touched so many people. He was the kind of person everyone connects with.”

Visibly moved by the number of people who had joined them in prayer, Shai said: “This is unbelievable. It is the biggest Jewish prayer since Har (Mount) Sinai. We haven’t had any new information about Omer since October 7, but we know he is alive, and we know he will come back. We just need to keep praying for him.”

Asked how they were managing to keep going amidst the pain and uncertainty, Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, who was abducted from the Nova music festival, said that every morning, she and her husband, Jon Polin, run. “I think that it’s a very innate, primal natural response – for any parent in the animal kingdom to respond when they think their offspring is in danger. We wake up every morning and we just start to run.”

She also said spoke of their “wonderful team of brilliant, kind, sophisticated savvy people, who are surrounding us at all times, and they carry us when our knees buckle”.

Rachel said that they were also strengthened by their “emunah” (faith), often being joined in prayer by “literally millions of people – not just Jewish people – all over the world, who are praying with us and sending us support and love”.

Explaining why he thought Hersh’s story had struck a chord with so many people, Jon said: “[Hersh] is modest, he’s quiet, but he is fun-loving, and within 15 minutes of being in a room, he will have talked to a lot of the people and gotten them to engage, and I think that is part of what people are attaching to.”

Rachel added: “He looks a lot like everybody. He could be anyone’s son; he could be anyone’s across-the-street neighbour, he could be your camp counsellor from when you were young. There is a familiarity to him that makes it feel that everybody knows it could have been anyone’s son, anyone’s brother, anyone’s grandson, anyone’s friend.”

Jon said that while they had “reason to believe” that Hersh, whose left arm was blown off by a grenade, had been given medical treatment, they knew nothing else. “The lack of information on [our] loved-ones is part of the torture that we’re all going through.”

Asked what her message to world Jewry was, Rachel said that it was an opportunity “to take this extremely painful, challenging moment and manifest it into something for the good. Even before October 7, there was a lot of fracturing within our community, within the Jewish people, and I think we really, truly have to allow the space for peace to come in.”

Aish described the occasion as “the time in history ... for us to unite in prayer. If we do it, we may just merit to see how everything turns around and everyone will come back home.”

On October 7, Hamas terrorists abducted 253 people from Israel. 134 remain in captivity.

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